Valerie Wallace teaches with the City Colleges of Chicago and the Newberry Library, and is Assistant Director, Communications, for the University of Chicago’s Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life. Her debut poetry collection, House of McQueen, “inhabits the life and work of Alexander McQueen,” and “builds a fantastical world using both original language and excerpts drawn from interviews, supermodels, Shakespeare, and more.”
How did you wind up in Chicago?
I fell in love with Chicago during my late teens, when I attended a Chicago program connected with my small liberal arts Kansas college, and subsequently convinced my first husband we should move here. Then he left and I happily stayed.
What are you reading right now?
Inquisition by Kazim Ali; White Portals by Jennifer Holley Lux; The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All by CD Wright; Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, and about to start Ana Ristović’s Directions for Use, translated from the Serbian by Chicagoans Steven Teref and Maja Teref.
Just finished Disease and Drug Free by Michael Broder, Jane by Maggie Nelson, The Best Land Under Heaven by Michael Wallis, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.
Of all the books you could have written, how and why did you settle on this one?
House of McQueen became a book manuscript once I realized I was inside an obsession of Alexander McQueen — it was originally a project envisioned as a five or so persona poems. But soon McQueen’s work ethic, working-class background, and extraordinary vision captured my attention, and because he had recently died, there was a plethora of information to access about his life and fantastical and gorgeous designs, so the research was easy to begin.
What is your favorite book about (or set in) Chicago?
Poetry: The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks.
Nonfiction: Fire on the Prairie: Chicago’s Harold Washington and the Politics of Race by Gary Rivlin.
What under-appreciated Chicago-based writer (past or present) do you wish everyone would read?
I wish David Hernández were still alive and everyone could hear him perform his exuberant poems. But thanks to technology, his books and videos of his performances are available.
Where do you usually write? Do you have any favorite public writing spaces in Chicago?
I have an office at home with a purple chair which gets a lot of use; I also get some writing done at the kitchen table. But sometimes I like to go out to write, and my favorite spots are Bridgeport Café in Hyde Park and Currency Exchange in Bronzeville.
What forthcoming books from Chicago-based writers are you excited about?
House of McQueen
By Valerie Wallace
Four Way Books
Published March 6, 2018
Adam Morgan is the founding editor of the Chicago Review of Books and the Southern Review of Books. His essays and criticism have appeared in The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and elsewhere.